Posts Tagged ‘writing about writing’

(Yes, I had more thoughts on NaNoWriMo. This list is related to the post below.)

  1. Do your research now. If you’re having to spend time looking things up while you are writing, you are wasting precious, precious writing time.
  2. Be excited about what you want to write. If you hate everything about your story, what makes you think readers are going to like it any more than you do? Related: what do you not see enough of in fiction that you would like to see? Now is your chance even if the only one that ever sees (or hears) the final product is your cat. Or dog. You get the idea.
  3. Related to number one: organize your research. Index cards, word doc files, scrivener notes, post-it notes, pencil scribbles on bar napkins. It doesn’t matter what it is, but if you can’t access your research while you are writing, it doesn’t matter how much research you did. Time spent finding your notes is time you could have been writing.
  4. Speaking of time: you will never “find” enough time. You have to carve out time for yourself with a butcher blade and a chainsaw.
  5. You should know what’s going to happen in the story. I can’t stress this enough. Approaching the story as a magical mystery tour where you are writing to find out what happens is a good way to get yourself trapped by plot holes or needing to save everything with a Deus Ex Machina. Plan. Outline. You’ll thank me later.
  6. NaNoWriMo isn’t the time to be looking for the perfect word. If you are struggling to find the medical term for bruise, know you could have written bruise and the next four sentences in the time it took you look up ecchymosis.
  7. Don’t be afraid to steal. Steal from other books. Steal from movies. Steal from TV. Steal from life. Steal from lots of different places and everyone will think you are original.
  8. Break it down into manageable chunks. I get it, 50k words seems like a lot of words. It is a lot words. So what about 2,000 words? Write 2,000 words a day for 25 days and you won’t only be done, but ahead of schedule.
  9. I mentioned characters in the last post. Antagonists are characters. What’s making the bad guy do what they do? What’s in it for them? How do their goals run counter to the protagonist?
  10. Think in terms of scenes. We don’t need to see the entire journey from Point A to Point written out. Is that trip uneventful? Great. SKIP TO THEM ARRIVING.
  11. The only person you are really competing against is yourself. Comparing yourself to how other people are doing is good way to get discouraged, especially if this is your first attempt. Think of it this way- the only who can tell this story in this particular way is you.
  12. No one is going to judge you if you don’t get to 50,000 words, except maybe you. No matter how many words you get down, it’ll be that many more than where you started November 1.
  13. Finish. Your. Shit. You got to 50k…buuuuut your story isn’t finished. So sit down on December 1 and work to finish it. Even if you aren’t planning on it ever seeing the cold light of day, it’s important to finish what you are working on. (And just ignore that drawer full of half-finished stories I just slammed close- this is Do As I Say not As I Do time, and we’ve all got our flaws). This is about finishing a draft you can then polish, not, “Yay! I wrote a story I don’t ever have to look at it again!”
  14. Don’t let anyone tell you NaNoWriMo is for people who aren’t “real” writers. A lot of people who write can get pretentious about what constitutes a “real” writer. Do you write? Good, you’re a writer then. We all gotta start somewhere.
  15. NaNoWriMo isn’t actually the end. What happens next is you let it sit until January 1. Get through the holidays. Get some distance and perspective. On January 2nd (because, let’s face it no one does much of anything on January 1), you get to phase two – editing. That’s where you get to take your word slurry and try to make it into something coherent. That’s where the real work starts.

Extra special bonus tip: Get rest. Be sure to eat and drink. You’ll write better rested and cared for than exhausted and distracted by being hungry or thirsty.

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“Hey there.”

“Hey back.”

“Watcha working on?”

“A piece on dialogue writing.”

“Seriously? You think you’re qualified to write something like that. What are you starting with?”

“A definition. Dialogue: a conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie.”

“Yawn. C’mon, liven it up a bit. Think of the great dialogue scenes in movies. John McClane and Al Powell. Harry and Sally. Vincent McCauley and Neil Hanna. Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield. Two people, sitting down, talking to each other. Sometimes sizing each other up. Sometimes taking the piss out of each other. And you’re going to start with a definition?”

“You’ve got a better idea?”

“Bet your ass I do.”

“Please, enlighten me.”

“Start with a question?”

“A question. But not any question. The question all authors need to ask about anything they are including in a story.”


“Well what?”

“The question, what’s the question?”

“You tell me, you’re the one writing about dialogue like some kind of expert.”

“All right. How’s this: ‘What purpose does dialogue serve in the context of the story you are telling?’”

“Ding ding ding. Of course, you are also going to have give some examples.”


“Hey, you are the one that wanted to write about dialogue.”

“All right, all right. So you can use dialogue to answer questions, right?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Can’t it be both?”

“Now you’re catching on. If you answer a question with a question, you might both answer the question and raise more questions. Same thing if you have someone ask a follow-up question to an answer provided. Helps break up the wall o’ text that might establish itself in the middle of what you are writing.”

“All right. So it can be used to ask questions and answer them. It can be used to provide information to the reader. Anything else.”

“What are you, some kind of idiot?”

“Wait- what? Why did you just call me that?”

“Maybe I did that to show the kind of relationship that we have. By taking an antagonistic approach to the dialogue I’m telling the reader about the kind of relationship we have, as opposed to if I started calling you Pumpkin.”

“Really, another Pulp Fiction reference?”

“Just seeing if you’re paying attention. So do you think it’s possible to have more than two people in a conversation?”

“Of course it is.”

“Whoa, who are you?”

“The person eavesdropping on your conversation. Fascinating stuff, really. So yes it is possible to have another character jump in, but you need to be sure to keep clear to the reader who is talking, otherwise they might lose the thread of the conversation.”

“Huh, good point.”

“Agreed. Now, if you don’t mind, this is a private conversation.”

“Well, excuse me.”

“Wait, where were we?”

“Let’s see, showing relationships through dialogue, Pulp Fiction reference, timely interruption. Anything else?”

“Let me think. Mind pouring me a cup of coffee while I ponder?”

“Not at all.”

“There you go, showing action through dialogue. Of course, you could do that through a sentence showing action within the dialogue, but that’s not always necessary.”

“Hmm. Good point. Any final thoughts?”

“Final thoughts? Final thoughts! We’ve barely dipped into the topic and here you are asking me for final thoughts! We haven’t touched on dialect, slang, or whether or not it’s okay to use ‘said’ at the end of a dialogue to indicate who is talking. And we definitely haven’t touched on the most important aspect of all.”

“Huh? What’s that?”

“Reading the dialogue aloud. It’s even better if you’ve got another person you can work with so you can make sure the banter works, as opposed to dwelling in your own head only thinking your dialogue pops when it facts its heavier than a lead balloon.”

“Huh, good idea, thanks.”

“De nada.”

(Originally written for and posted at the Writer’s Carnival Blog on tumblr).


Dialogue can be one of the most daunting tasks facing a writer. How do you make it sound natural? How do you make sure the reader knows who is talking when? How do you handle multiple people involved? Do you include accents or not? (more…)